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This former Masters champion is wearing sneakers to play golf … so should you start?

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April 18, 2024
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Maddie Meyer

It's always rather intriguing to see what the best golfers in the world choose to wear on their feet as they trek some of golf's most challenging conditions. Footwear is a rather underrated piece of equipment in a golfer's arsenal—it's easy to assume that shoes are simply for the aesthetics—but, your choice of kicks can impact your game in more ways than one. Last week, during the Masters, former champion Vijay Singh sported an interesting choice in sneakers, which left us wondering … are sneakers, specifically ones designed for running and not golf, a good on-course footwear option?

Singh, who has cited podiatry issues in the past, wears Hokas for comfort and was spotted wearing the Hoka Tecton 2 X shoes (designed for trail running and racing) over the last few seasons. With comfort in mind, a runner's shoe provides extra cushioning with thicker midsoles to help alleviate pressures from ground forces. When walking (which golfers do quite a bit of), running shoes have specific foot-framing features that cradle the foot and secure the heel with each step, while also combating foot fatigue.

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David Cannon

So out of pure curiosity, I ventured an hour outside of Brooklyn to Long Island to play the Red Course at Bethpage (its dramatic older sibling, the Black course, is the host course of next year's Ryder Cup). As a first-timer, I was surprisingly not overwhelmed by the aesthetics of the Red Course—but as you walk the fairway of the first hole, you quickly realize just how undulating it truly is. It's no Augusta National, but the track's sloping isn't for the faint of heart, and therefore a viable option for this little experiment.

Bethpage State Park: Red
Public
Bethpage State Park: Red
Farmingdale, NY
A.W. Tillinghast’s Red course opened in 1935—a year before the famed Black—and is considered by many, including us, to be Bethpage’s second-best layout. The challenge of the Red starts on the first tee, where the typical crowd gathered by the starter’s booth watches as golfers try to find the narrow fairway guarded by thick rough. Though the opening and closing stretch of holes are tree-lined, the routing shakes free at the par-4 eighth and breaks into a vast plain littered with fescue and bunkers. Here it emulates the same kind of rugged muscularity and wasp-waist bunkering the Black is known for, though with slightly more room to play off the tee and less dire consequence for missing shots. But in the Red you get the whiff of a major championship design and something far more profound than any run-of-the-mill "second best" golf course.
View Course

Although I don't have the exact pair of Hokas as Singh, I wore a pair of New Balance Fresh Foam X 1080s that have similar characteristics to the Hokas—a durable, thick cushion designed for landing and pushing off when running.

On the walking side of things, my foot health remained solid for all 18 holes. With other golf shoes, I have found that my feet will start to ache around the 12th hole, but in the running shoes, my feet didn't ache until about the 16th hole (which could have just been mental fatigue).

It was a picture-perfect afternoon in New York, with clear skies and no signs of impending weather conditions, I didn’t have to battle any muddy areas, and the morning dew was already long gone by the time I teed it up. I likely wouldn’t have tried this experiment if the forecast called for rain or if it had been raining for a few days and I was worried about saturated ground (or messing up the mesh of my shoes). With dry conditions, however, I didn’t notice any traction issues whatsoever. My walking pace even felt a little faster from how lightweight the shoes are and I definitely noticed the difference in bounce and energy return, like my sneaks were propelling my body forward with each step.

Nike, G/FORE, Under Armour and other brands have released variations of golf shoes that offer extra cushioning and energy return, so this may be something I’ll gravitate toward when shopping for my next pair of golf shoes to provide me the level of comfort I desire.

However, throughout my round, I noticed that I was struggling to maintain my balance and had difficulty utilizing the ground during my swing. The Red Course is very demanding off the tee, and I need all the help I can get with my driving distance, so I try to use as much ground force as possible to produce more power. When swinging, I try to feel as though I'm pushing off the ground, incorporating my lower body to help me gain more yardage. With so much cushion in the sole, I felt a bit off-balance as I moved into my downswing. To counter that feeling I was shifting a ton of weight towards my heels, causing me to struggle with contact for much of the day.

Post-round I consulted my on-call PGA teaching professional, Gavin Parker (who happens to also be my brother and swing coach) about the impact of shoes on using ground forces, to which he explained, "When it comes to feeling the ground in your golf swing some shoes are better than others."

If you want to look cool AND play good golf, Nike’s Jordan golf shoes are great because they have flatter soles that allow for a better ground feel, which is key to stabilizing your swing, to be able to leverage your body off the ground to generate enough power and speed to hit the ball farther. Nike Air Max 270s [sneakers] and the classic Air Max models have higher soles, making it more difficult to feel the ground, causing your foot and body weight to exist more in your toes rather than the balls of your feet making your shots move towards the right. So, if you want to hit the more solid and straighter, pay attention to the soles of your shoe. Spikes help too [with traction] but I prefer flat soles like G/FORE's and Jordans to allow me to feel more of the ground as I swing."

The golf swing has many nuances, and your feet are just another thing to add to the long list of considerations when playing. So the next time you tee it up, pay attention to the feel and you may find that perhaps, your swing doesn't need the tweaking, you may just be wearing the wrong type of shoes for your game.